Orthopraxy vs. Orthodoxy

The Concepts of 'Correct Belief' and 'Correct Practice'

Religions are generally defined by one of two things: belief or practice. These are the concepts of orthodoxy (belief in a doctrine) and orthopraxy (emphasis on practice or action). This contrast is often referred to as 'correct belief' versus 'correct practice.'

While it is possible and extremely common to find both orthopraxy and orthodoxy in a single religion, some concentrate more on one or the other.

To understand the differences, let's examine a few examples of both to see where they lie.

The Orthodoxy of Christianity

Christianity is highly orthodox, particularly among Protestants. For Protestants, salvation is based on faith and not on works. Spirituality is largely a personal issue, without the need for prescribed ritual. Protestants largely don't care how other Christians practice their faith so long as they accept certain central beliefs.

Catholicism holds a few more orthopraxic facets than Protestantism. They emphasize actions such as confession and penance as well as rituals such as baptism to be important in salvation.

Still, Catholic arguments against "unbelievers" are primarily about belief, not practice. This is particularly true in modern times when Protestants and Catholics are no longer calling each other heretics.

Orthopraxic Religions

Not all religions emphasize 'correct belief' or measure a member by their beliefs.

Instead, they focus primarily on orthopraxy, the idea of 'correct practice' rather than correct belief.

Judaism. While Christianity is strongly orthodox, its predecessor, Judaism, is strongly orthopraxic. Religious Jews obviously do have some common beliefs, but their primary concern is correct behavior: eating kosher, avoiding various purity taboos, honoring the Sabbath and so on.

A Jew is unlikely to be criticized for believing incorrectly, but he might be accused of behaving badly.

Santeria. Santeria is another orthopraxic religion. Priests of the religions are known as santeros (or santeras for women). Those who simply believe in Santeria, however, have no name at all.

Anyone of any faith can approach a santero for assistance. Their religious outlook is unimportant to the santero, who will likely tailor his explanations in religious terms his client can understand.

In order to be a santero, one has to have gone through specific rituals. That is what defines a santero. Obviously, the santeros will also have some beliefs in common, but what makes them a santero is ritual, not belief.

The lack of orthodoxy is also apparent in their patakis, or stories of the orishas. These are a wide and sometimes contradictory collection of stories about their gods. The power of these stories is in the lessons they teach, not in any literal truth. One doesn't need to believe in them to have them be spiritually significant

Scientology. Scientologists often describe Scientology as "something you do, not something you believe in." Obviously, you wouldn't go through actions you thought were pointless, but the focus of Scientology is actions, not beliefs.

Just thinking that Scientology is correct accomplishes nothing. However, going through the various procedures of Scientology such as auditing and silent birth are expected to produce a variety of positive results.